Municipal elections put issues under microscope

By MPP Toby Barrett

Mayors, reeves and councillors across Ontario will be under the electorate’s microscope as we approach municipal elections on Oct. 27.

A number of issues surfaced at last week’s AGM of ROMA – the Rural Ontario Municipal Association.

The Ontario Provincial Police is comprised of great men and women who put their lives on the line to serve and protect. It is the cost, not the quality, of policing that has become a big concern for municipalities.

Under former Premier McGuinty – and with the current premier in a key cabinet role — there was a contract signed to give the OPP two years of zero increases, followed by a catch-up designed to make them the highest-paid force in the province. On January 1, that catch-up kicked in.

Something had to be done, and last April, we in Ontario’s Opposition tabled our Capacity to Pay Act, requiring arbitrators to respect people’s ability to pay without simply assuming ratepayers have bottomless pockets.

We feel the government’s newly-announced billing model now being considered for policing will not solve the problem. All it will do is tax some municipalities more and some less, pitting winners and losers against each other. It will do nothing to resolve municipalities’ ability to pay the ever-increasing policing bill, and nothing to fix the real problem.

On another note, kudos to my colleague MPP Randy Pettapiece for pushing the Ontario government to protect property taxpayers by reforming “joint and several liability” insurance for municipalities. The Pettapiece bill addresses the alarming rise in premiums because of litigation and claim costs. Haldimand County, Norfolk County and 155 other municipalities have passed motions of support.

During his speech to ROMA, Opposition Leader Tim Hudak reaffirmed he will abolish the Far North Act in which special interest fantasies about the North are applied with the predictable outcome of costing jobs and investment. Hudak recommitted to his comprehensive plan to bring an economic boom to the North, particularly to the mineral – rich Ring of Fire.

To provide cost-efficient and reliable energy, we must end new subsidies to wind and solar power that drive up rates punishing both manufacturers and Ontario’s families with high electricity bills. In addition to a moratorium and scrapping the Green Energy Act, we advocate municipalities alone decide whether or not they want a wind farm.

Modern infrastructure doesn’t just mean roads and subways. It also means greater access to natural gas. The recent discoveries of huge amounts of shale gas is a game changer, and we need to re-think how we can harvest its benefits to lower costs and increase retail accessibility for consumers and businesses. We must ensure all bureaucratic red tape at the provincial level is removed so this critical infrastructure has a chance at becoming a reality to help power Ontario’s economy.

In the wake of the winter we just had, Ontario municipalities will be under the gun from increased snow-clearing costs and the numerous pot holes winter has left behind on our roadways. Snow removal costs and potholes are representative of the bigger infrastructure issues Ontario is facing, and we want to ensure the province doesn’t fall in to a fiscal pothole it can’t recover from.

Elected representatives at all levels continue to be held under the microscope and must work cooperatively to find solutions to fix these problems in the most cost-effective manner possible.